Attorney A. Emma Flynn is not happy. She’s in a doctor’s office, engaged in a heated conversation with the physician. Instead of looking him in the face, though, she’s turned away and fixed her eyes on a distant point.
That point appears to be the back of the nearly empty auditorium where she and other volunteer actors are performing a dress rehearsal of “Harvey,” which opens tonight at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.
For Flynn, a successful lawyer who’s acting for the first time, performing in the prize-winning play has been a tangle of excitement and frayed nerves. “I was really nervous during the audition because the talent here is staggering,” she says. “They paired me with Jacob Moore. He’s so good, he wound up getting the lead.”
Flynn credits her successful bid to play the part of Nurse Kelly to her reading with Moore. “He made me look good,” she says. “I’m not sure if I would have gotten the part otherwise. I’m grateful I did, though, because I’m loving it.”
“Harvey” tells the story of Elwood P. Dowd, a likeable man who claims to be friends with an unseen – and presumably imaginary – six-foot tall rabbit. When his social-climbing sister, Veta, can no longer bear his eccentric behavior, she tries to have him committed to a sanitarium.
Flynn’s Nurse Kelly gets caught up in a comedy of errors when the doctor admits Veta to the sanitarium instead.
Playwright Mary Chase received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Harvey” in 1945. The play has been adapted for film and television several times, most notably in a 1950 film starring James Stewart.
Flynn describes her character as “the smartest person in the room,” but also someone over whom the other characters steamroll. The role is meatier than it sounds on paper, though, as Nurse Kelly is also the love interest in the story. “She’s in a weird triangle with Elwood and the doctor,” she says, smiling broadly. “It’s cool.”
As an attorney, Flynn focuses on commercial litigation. While her work keeps her busy, she maintains balance in her life by pursuing other interests, such as yoga and painting. After a recent career revamp, during which she launched her own practice, she decided to do something she hadn’t done before – act.
“Once things were moving along at work and I had settled into a routine, I realized I had time to do something else,” she says. “The idea of performing in a play struck me one day, and I decided to see when the Theatre Centre would be having auditions.”
Auditions for “Harvey” were taking place that night. Since her schedule was clear, Flynn decided to read for a part. “Had auditions not been that night, something would have come up, and I wouldn’t have gone,” she says. “I’m glad I was able to go. I’m having fun.”
Although Flynn confesses to have not seen a lot of old films or television shows, and was therefore unable to channel certain actors and actresses at the director’s request, she did exhibit some versatility during her audition. “He asked me to do the reading again like Lucille Ball,” she says. “That’s something a judge has never asked me to do.”
Although opening night is tonight, Flynn says her stomach is free of butterflies. “I feel a surge of energy every time I’m about to step onto the stage,” she says. “It’s not unlike going before a judge. When I step into the courtroom, everything snaps into focus, and I know what I need to do to tell my client’s story. The same thing happens when I step onstage here, only I’m telling the nurse’s story.”
The Chattanooga Theatre Centre will perform “Harvey” through Sunday, Nov 22. For tickets and show times, visit theatrecentre.com. Find out more about Flynn’s law practice at flynnattorney.com.